I know what everyone’s wondering. I know it because I keep getting asked over and over again. I’ve been asked it by Sam. “Can’t you just make your own nuke?” And by Holly, “Don’t you have any nukes around here?” Even Silver Shark weighed in, “Aren’t you smart enough to build your own?”
I am indeed capable of throwing one together. There are probably plenty of villains on this island who can help with that. My answer was simple. “It’s not about making a nuke. It’s about taking one.”
The crowd of people who have all taken to camping in my palace didn’t find that satisfactory. “I bet Maxxy could even build you a nuke!” Sam said, gesturing toward Max.
I looked over to Max, who stood in my kitchen, pouring cereal into a pint of yogurt before taking a spoon to it. “Gecko knows what she’s doing. Leave me out of this,” he said, chomping on fruit loops and congealed dairy.
“Thank you, Max, you are a scholar and a gentleman.” I nodded toward him and crossed all my arms. I looked down to see Qiang mimicking my pose and reached down to hold her against me with my two lefties. “As I was saying, I am easily capable of making a nuclear weapon. I’ll even teach my little psycho bunny here if she wants to learn when she’s older.” I turned and kissed the top of Qiang’s head, then pretended to bite her hair. She giggled at that and hugged onto me.
I will, but only when she’s old enough to handle nuclear weapons, so at least fifteen or sixteen. I don’t want to pressure her into it, though. After all, she might prefer for her first WMD to be a chemical or even biological weapon. I can help with the chemical part, but I’ll have to impart on her that a biological weapon is a huge responsibility. I don’t want to help her build one of those for her to just forget about it and leave me to take it out and clean up after it.
“Making a nuclear bomb also does some weird stuff as far as international treaties. Now, even though people don’t invade countries who develop the bomb precisely because they now have that bomb to use against invading countries, it still creates some international tensions. More importantly, I don’t want to make one because it’s more important for it to be stolen. I have a lot of old files stored away, hogging valuable gigabytes I could use for more important stuff, like porn. Some of those files include the location of places where a certain large nation of imperialist pigs.”
Holly held up her hand. “Question! Do you have to call us pigs like that?”
“Yes,” I answered bluntly. Then I held up a booklet. “It says so in the manual.” I handed it over to her. The cover featured a row of grinning prisoners standing in front of a happy firing squad. “So You’ve Become A Dictator,” read the title above it. She took it and started reading through as I continued.
“There’s a group of these guys around, they’re spying on Ricca, and some of them have almost certainly come ashore without us detecting them. In retaliation, I’m going to steal one of their bombs. Just a bit of harmless tit for tat.” I pulled out another booklet and threw it at Sam just before she started to stifle a laugh at the thought of anything tit-related with me now. She caught some more of my educational reading, “The Dictator’s Guide To Preemptive Strikes”.
“Now, this next part will require all of you to practice the important skill of shutting the fuck up… but I’ll leak that we have it in some hidden site and wait for whoever they’ve got on the island to make a move for it. Then I snap the trap before Admiral Akbar can so much as perform vocal warm-up exercises.”
The joke landed a bit flat, in part because Max was busy with his cereal and Holly had become engrossed in the dictator manual. And that was the only reason nobody liked such an obviously phenomenal reference. “Wow, this is really mysoginist,” Holly said, never taking her eyes off the booklet.
I shrugged. “High turnover from purges, civil war, and regular war. They pretty much all turn women into baby factories.”
“Even the women dictators?” she asked.
“Check out the roster on Page 78,” I said.
She flipped to it. “Wow, that’s a lot of guys.”
“That’s why they’re not called vagtators,” I said. “So, we have any questions about the plan?”
I got a rousing chorus of mildly disinterested “No”s and one question from Qiang on if I was going to fix hamburgers. I told her yes and set her down, then realized she was wearing the same dress as me. “Who got you this? You’re almost as pretty in that dress as your dad.”
“I didn’t used to hear these kinds of sentences until I met you people,” said Silver Shark, shaking her mechanically augmented head from where it sat on a neck that could adjust to let her shift it to face directly up when in the water.
“Miss Shark got me this!” Qiang answered, pointing at Silver.
“Aww, did you tell her thank you?”
Silver Shark spoke up. “I told her about Valentine’s and helped her get a dress in case she got a Valentine of her own.”
“Huh,” I said, thinking about it. “That’s right, Valentine’s. Completely slipped my mind. I didn’t even notice if they celebrate it here.”
“They celebrate it,” Max spoke up. “The women give chocolates to men in this part of the world.” He looked at me, then down at his pint of yogurt and began to sidle off to the side.
“That’s remarkably astute. What an amazing thing for you to know, Max. Mind if I ask how you know this and, come to think of it, why my wife didn’t get me anything? Where is she, anyway?”
Sam crossed her arms. “She’s probably sleeping off the sedative Max gave her after she caught him eating all the chocolate you were supposed to get.” She stuck her tongue out at Max. “Happy VD, Maxxy.”
I turned to find a Max-shaped hole in the wall. That would be this one chemical that weakens most forms of wood only in spots with pressure put on it. Useful for making personalized doorways, but not so much preventing someone from following. Still, I was more concerned about checking on Citra. She was indeed still asleep and loopy. I figured I better get her something to make up for missing Valentine’s. With the aid of Qiang, I worked on a pink, heart-shaped cake.
“Oh god, the attention to detail. That’s so gross,” said Sam as she watched me finishing the icing.
“Don’t look so grossed out,” I told her. Qiang passed me a more red shade of icing that we’d whipped up. “Everyone has them.”
“I can’t believe you think that’s a romantic gift,” she countered.
I rolled my eyes. “You’d whine the same way if I pulled out my actual heart and gave it to her. Some people just aren’t happy, and you’re one of them.” I stuck out my tongue at her, then returned to careful decoration of the large muscular blood pump, all while thinking about stage two of the nuclear plan. A gal’s gotta have secrets, even when she’s a dude. Especially when she’s a dude, some might argue.
I had plenty of time to finish before it was time to send Hexadecibel on his way. We had to wait for an appropriate time due to time zones, but I soon strapped on my armor and gave him a set of Riccan augmented reality glasses to wear. We launched from the villain village. One moment he was there, muttering incantations in a circle, the next he was gone and in a bunker somewhere. I lost him there for a few seconds until a smaller portal opened in the circle that let the signal through.
“I got shunted, man. I’m nearby the room.” he said as soon as I could see and hear the situation. Teleporting in like that set off alarms. The glasses overlaid a path for Hexadecibel to follow to the storage area. I saw through is eyes as a squad of guards tried to accost him. Arms grew out of the concrete around them and pulled them against it. He stopped to rifle through one of their pockets before I urged him to forget about mugging them and get the big stuff. It took a bit of maneuvering until he found himself coming out into a two-story room. The floor gently sloped up in a ramp to a door on the second story. Underneath it was the opening of a bunker. “Back!” I yelled just as the opened fire. Good reflexes on those soldiers.
Hexadecibel didn’t go back. He magicked up a concrete wall. A big, beautiful wall, the best wall, nobody builds better walls than Ricca. “Shit,” he said.
“You got this?” I asked.
The view moved from side to side. “I don’t know. Maybe I can. Let me try something.” He jumped up and threw a fireball at them. The rate of fire sounded like it picked up dramatically as he landed, but so did the screaming. After a couple of seconds, the shooting stopped while the screaming continued. Hex dropped the wall cautiously, but no fire picked up. He headed up the ramp and stopped in front of the door’s keypad. “Do you know the code?”
“Give me something big enough to bring my hand through,” I told him.
He put his hands together, made a few hand gestures that created glowing runes in the air, then pulled them apart. A small portal opened, about as big around as a softball. I pulled my gauntlet off and pushed an arm through the portal and against the pad. Soon, my body connected with the wiring and allowed me to interface with it. I had it open for him, then pulled myself free and back to my own location as soon as I could. “You’re good to go.”
When he opened the door, it led to row after row, rack after rack of warheads. He stood there for a moment. When it looked like he wasn’t moving, I ahemed and said, “Hey, there may be soldiers coming up behind you. Get in and shut that door.”
He hurried in. “Sorry, I think I peed a little. There are so many.”
“The country’s had the ability to annihilate all life on Earth for more than half a century. That’s a lot of spares left laying around.”
“I guess I didn’t think about how many that means. How many do you need?”
“I said just one and I meant it. Preferably one of these near the door. They’ll be a bit more fresh.”
“Ok, you should back up.”
I moved further away from his little circle. Meanwhile, the connection showed him pulling out some mixture of a powdery substance and spreading it in a circle around one of the racks that only had a single warhead. There was some chanting, some more runes, even a bit of a red glow then… pop! The air made a little popping noise as Hexadecibel and the nuclear warhead just appeared in his little circle on this side.
“Whew!” he shouted and clapped his hands. “That was intense, man. Hey, I still hear the alarm though.”
I heard it too, then I realized. “That’s not so much an alarm as it is a loud squee.” Too late, I looked up to find myself tackled by an enthusiastic giant bee woman. Queen Beetrice, ruler of the insectoid-humanoid Buzzkills and the nation of North Korea as part of the Riccan Empire.
“I thought you were watching the Olympics,” I told her.
She just hugged me tight. “I heard you were getting me a nuclear bomb!” she said, attempting to squeeze me out of my armor like Popeye opening a can of spinach.
“Let’s talk this over elsewhere,” I said to her. I had to give the military guys the orders on where to hide our bit of ill-gotten goods. They’ll see to it.
I, on the other hand, had to go make another cake, and bees have really weird-looking hearts compared to humans. Meanwhile, at the rocket plant, custom orders began to trickle in every few hours, spread across different shifts, meant to match different sorts of rockets than the we use on Ricca. With the nuke secured, I was ready to prepare stage two.
I think I’ve stated before that I really hate it in video games when you need something for a quest, only to be told that I have to do a sidequest for another party to get the thing I need. It’s annoying. I mean, you’re saving the world, and these bozos decide they can’t let you have the thing you need to stop some soul-sucking fiend from hell until you go back to their old apartment and retrieve their +1 couch of chilling. Protagonists shouldn’t be bothered with that.
It’s a good thing I’m practicing playing nice with others. The secret, I find, is anger management. I’ve gone through several hundred stress relief toys. Squeezed to death, the poor dildoes. Silver Shark was nice enough to take Qiang out to see the new schools being built for kids on the island. Good thing, too. Citra was suddenly too tired and unable to walk after all the anger management.
Escorpio and Cuerno helped too. Not that way, though Escorpio’s look with the scorpions and the gold… Anyway, they’re both important to the Paradise City Cartel, and they respect that I’ve worked with them and upheld their end of the bargain. I’ve still got my eyes on them, though. It’d be advantageous for them to have more power with what I’m throwing together than helping facilitate Ouroboros’s attendance, so I’m watching them closely. Especially Escorpio, since he’s here on the island.
My big problem turned out to be the Yakuza, the other major gang presence in Paradise City. I did my homework and found that Yakuza shell companies are part owners of a lot of expensive real estate around the place, mostly hotels. Hotels with massage services and shopping arcades. What that tells me is there’s likely prostitution and whatever it’s called when they make fake versions of fancy clothing and purses.
The government here knows it too, given some of the archives I checked through. The feds have bigger problems than that these days. Some uninsured survivalist type decided to get around not paying by getting a couple dozen friends together to take over a Veterans’ Hospital in Idaho or something. They talked a big game about being patriots, then dumped some of the bodies of patients they had to kill when they fought back. The government has bigger things to worry about than the Yakuza bringing over Japanese women to give tourists a happy ending.
I stopped by the Yakuza’s crowning jewel, the Gulf Majesty Hotel, built with a reinforced foundation on an island across a short bridge from Paradise City that is still considered part of the area. It sat on a six foot rise due to that solid foundation, with a cast iron fence to dissuade non-guests from loitering. They had a valet and everything, though I waved him off from taking the cabby’s keys. “Here you go, buy your wife something nice,” I said.
He took the cash, but grumbled. “That bitch is divorcing me.”
I shrugged and tossed in another $50. “Buy a new wife then. A better one.”
“Like hell I’m going through that again!” He declared as he peeled out, “Fuck it, I’m learning to suck dicks!”
I turned to the valet who avoided reacting to the scene and put my arm around his shoulders to draw him close. “There goes a man and a dream. A dream of sucking cock. Love is a beautiful thing, eh?” I turned the Dudebot’s head toward the valet. They were real close when I asked, “Say, I don’t suppose you’ve been through a divorce, have you?” He rapidly shook his head, so I let him go and headed inside.
In the lobby, I nodded toward the front clerk, who looked at me and walked briskly toward a back room. Five minutes later, a man with a name tag reading “Manager” approached me as I waited, checking on the brochures for local attractions. Gun ranges, parasailing, shooting guns while parasailing…
“How may I help you, sir?” asked the manager.
“I am quite lonely and looking for some companionship,” I said.
“Perhaps you are looking for our massage parlor?” he suggested.
I shook the Dudebot’s head. “I’m more of a conversationalist. I was looking for someone educated, perhaps even important, to sit down and have a bit of back and forth with.”
The euphemisms really didn’t matter in so openly corrupt a city as Paradise, but a lot of criminals are still use to the affectation. Plus, it feels cooler. This manager went from having a potentially crappy day to feeling like he’s in a spy novel or something. Little did he suspect that what looks like an everyday rubber chicken is actually an ambulatory grenade. And hidden within my shoes is a device that, when moved at high velocity toward an opponent’s posterior, kicks their ass.
The manager scurried away. When he returned, I was ushered toward a special elevator in the back for more important guests who are goin’ straight to the top. Literally, it skipped most floors of the hotel. The manager hit a button only marked “Business”. The elevator door shot, but the elevator didn’t go up. The rear of the elevator, which appeared to be just another wall, slid open to reveal a smiling Japanese man flanked by a pair of guards. He bowed to me. “Psychopomp Gecko. At last, I have the honor to meet you myself.”
I returned the bow. “Japanese dude. Hey, what’s up?”
“My name is Mitchell Mori, and your timing is most auspicious.” He turned. His guards both parted to the side instantly, like water. Nah, water’s not that instant. They parted like instant soup. I went to walk along the corridor and Mori locked step with me, the two guards following after. The manager quickly pressed a button and closed off the elevator to me.
“My timing is not a coincidence. Where there are no problems, I create them, but where there are problems, I solve them. It is my contrarian nature,” I said.
He led me into a small office, sparsely decorated, but warm nonetheless. I think it was all the thick, dark brown wood. Something about being a woman makes thick wood more appealing to me for some reason.
The guards stayed outside, and he circled around to his side, waiting on me to sit down. Then it was time for pleasantries. Lip service at least. How am I enjoying the city, where am I staying, that sort of thing. Then he got into the good stuff. “I expect you are here because of our recent superhero problem?”
I leaned forward. “Superhero problem, you say? Tell me more!”
It seems a group of teenaged do-gooders arrived in Paradise City recently. They’re looking for someone, and in the process have found their way into visiting some shopping arcades, massage parlors, and hotels in the area. Being both superheroes and essentially children, their resulting attempts to find whoever they’re looking for have caused a few problems. And fires.
“Your presence brings with it an opportunity to stop these heroes with as little difficulty as possible. What do you propose as your price?” He folded his hands in front of him and looked onto two of my robot’s helmet’s eyes.
“Oh, I have just the thing, and it won’t even cost you any money,” I said to him before making my offer.
The thing about an extortion racket is that it’s so easy to put two and two together. A guy comes around and threatens you if you don’t pay protection. If you don’t pay, bad things happen to you. Nobody’s fooled. Reverse the order a bit and it gets easier to hide. Some group clearly unconnected to me goes around, making trouble and causing property damage. I’m already known to be in town, already known to help with just that sort of thing, and suddenly the victims are eager to be extorted. Of course, using the heroes means I only have a certain sort of control over them, but my qualifications speak for themselves. And I speak for them, too. Hell, it’s hard to get me to shut up about my qualifications. Have I mentioned I kill people today?
Across town, our five teenagers were just heading into an Italian restaurant. They were out of costume, though the Asian kid didn’t have one of his own. I’d tracked them there with something of a rough plan in mind. They went in to be seated and I sent my guy into the restaurant’s restroom. Despite the damage done to its leg, my Dudebot’s hologram systems were good enough to keep me unnoticed in there. It would have been serendipitous if the kid had noticed his own dad, but is this just real life, or is this just fantasy?
Real life, obviously.
The dad texted his son from inside the bathroom. The son raced off to go see him, not telling his friends anything more than “I need to use the john.” I didn’t follow him in. I’ve already seen how this movie ends. Something about not having the cash to pay for the pizza, so what other method of payment can he give his father?
With the son out of the way, it was my time to rough up the others a bit. Not a lot. Just enough. I walked on over to their table where I think the guy in the letterman jacket realized something was up. He squinted at me a moment before I slammed the table up against him. He bent back, the table rolling over him and out the window. It got one of the girls too, the black one. Always a good way to phrase things. “Hey, which person was it? The black one!” She had her headphones on and held her nose after the table had passed over them and out the window. The other one, the white girl who I’d last seen in ballet-themed spandex, she had ducked low. I gave her an easy kick in the face to bring up some tears and break her nose.
The Dudebot was knocked off its leg before I could put the other one down by a white and blue blur that knocked it into a wall. I pulled it out and turned it into a storm of fists courtesy the speedster of the group, Step. I threw a few to his midsection to get him to back off as I sped up the cybernetic portion of my brain and the Dudebot. Metal fists missed him by an every narrowing margin while he ducked and laid down his own punches, up until I caught one of his. His eyes bugged out in this “Oh crap” look before I squeezed down hard. I fired the eye lasers but he punched the Dudebot’s view to the side so it could just carve out part of the ceiling instead. A light fixture fell and hit a waitress who looked like she was just one day away from retirement.
If he wouldn’t let me blast him, I’d just have to give him a big ol’ hug. I pulled him in close and squeezed real tight. It felt like it lasted a long time, but that was the overclocking. In real time, it didn’t take that long at all until I was disappointed by having one of the robot’s arms pulled away. Step slipped out and returned to the side of his friends, who were recovering a bit. Plus, for my brain’s sake, I couldn’t keep running it that fast.
Hussle, the super strong guy with the football letter, threw the table I’d already thrown at me. Ugh, so derivative. I rolled under it and popped up beside a nearby table to grab a large bowl of salad I hurled at him. I also hurled a person on the floor tripped up by a chair who had previously been eating the salad. Lock, the ballet girl, tried to throw off my aim but did her little voodoo that she do too late. Made me look like I was doing a Sieg Heil and the person still went flying into a wall. Gotta wonder about a white girl whose first instincts are to throw up a Nazi salute when she’s in trouble. I had to fight it with my other hand, but my nosejob had worked on her after all. She had to stop and wipe her eyes.
My hands down, that’s when Step sped into me for another couple of hits, then zoomed off. Pop tried to knock me off-kilter with her sound shenanigans, but I turned the volume down and thus was not distracted when Hussle came barreling at me. He tried to get me low in a tackle, but I grabbed him around his waist from behind, picked him up, spun him around and around, then threw him down through a nearby table. He knocked down a running eater as he flew through the air. Breadsticks went everywhere. I grabbed an errant meatball out of air and threw it right at Lock as she readied another sound blast, but Step caught it in midair. He did the same to the breadsticks, the brea knife, a fork, a toddler, and a cheese grater, distracting him while I kicked a bottle of olive oil onto the floor.
He went skidding off, allowing me to successfully fill Lock’s mouth with my breadstick. Grabbing some linguine from a nearby plate, I walked over, kicked Pop away, and tied Lock’s hands around her back. Then I did one of those ballet lifts and tossed her onto a wine rack. She went from a dry white to wet and red in a hurry. Pop tried again to give me intense snapping and crackling sounds to hurt me ears, but I just smooshed a plate of chicken parmesan into her face. Hussle jumped and even though I turned, he managed to catch me in a bear hug. I projected a bright light into his face. “Go into the light!”
Now, in the middle of all this, one might be curious what the goal was. Why hadn’t I killed anyone yet? And what were those two guys doing in that bathroom?
While I elbowed Hussle in the gut and drove the air out of his lungs, my guy was hugging his son, sobbing like a baby and telling him how much he loved him and how proud he was of him. Yeah, I had the guy bugged in case he wasn’t loyal. It happens. “I want you to know that I can’t stay here anymore, but it’s not because I hate you. I would never hurt you. My fate is fixed, but your destiny is yet to be seized. But whatever you do, do not follow us. If you come after us, the Emperor will kill you. If you stay here, he will kill you. Go back to Abnormal and never forget that I love you.”
Meanwhile, I had Hussle upside down, giving him a wedgie and dunking his head in minestrone. I dropped him as things began to rattle and vibrate in the Dudebot. Pop was behind me, hands to her headphones, trying anything she can to help. She looked to be straining herself. I turned and flung a pizza pan, pizza slices flying off it, right at her neck. It doubled her over in time for me to hop over and gently toss her out through the already-broken window and onto the hood of somebody’s unfortunately-placed car.
The speedster, desperate and slick with olive oil, made one last try for me. I ducked under his reach and grabbed him by the back of his tights. I picked him up, smashed his head through another window, and just carried him along the whole wall like that, right through the few wall barriers between. I ended it by leaving him there, holding his legs apart, and kicking him right there in his little super testes.
When father and son left the bathroom, the son ran to see to his wounded but living friends. The father hurried out to disappear into the city and meet back up with me. A medical chopper was there in minutes to see to the injured teens. It wasn’t until they were halfway back to Abnormal that any of them thought to wonder why the pilot was taking them there instead of a hospital in Paradise City. In the end, they got the message. They’ve been sticking around there, likely nursing their first real injuries since becoming supers.
Mori was satisfied. Ouroboros was satisfied. As for me, I sent them each a cake in the shape and coloring of their butts. The video footage I had allowed ass-tonishing precision. And with each cake came a message written in frosting. “I hereby present you with your ass to commemorate the time I handed you yours. Love and snuggles, PG.”
As might be surmised by all the skywriting, I wasn’t really hiding. Hell, anyone could find us by the weed smoke alone. This man is not human. If anyone should have overdosed on THC, it’d be Willie Nelson.
Despite that, the fellow’s surprisingly active. Found that out after an unexpected swing of his with a fireplace poker. Willie had gotten a bit stir crazy, or at least that’s the excuse he gave when trying to build a parachute out of bedsheets. Never underestimate the ingenuity of an experienced stoner. If you’ve seen the things they can make bongs out of, you realize how crafty they are. So I politely gave him an opportunity to fence with me a big it he was feeling so antsy to get his exercise. He chose the fireplace poker as his weapon. I considered being a dick about it and picking his guitar for mine, but I settled on a loaf of cuban bread from the kitchen. The fact that I’ve bonked him several times on his braided noggin with my wheaty blade while his efforts to hit me have been both legitimate and futile just adds to the fun.
We clashed, bread on iron. Willie gritted his teeth, looking down at the bread incredulously. “What the hell is in that stuff?”
I leaned in close. “This bread was hard enough to be the equal of that poker fresh. Stale, its strength is beyond mortal ability to chew or bend.” I effortless pushed him away. He backed up to the couch, then hopped onto the cushion and brought his poker down in an overhead stroke that I sidestepped easily. I casually flicked the bread at his legs. He jumped over it and spun around, bringing his poker around. I ducked it, then advanced, deflecting his backhand. He ran up the back of the couch just as I started to step onto it, tipping it over. It might have thrown me off, but I managed to step on it and bring myself over even as something twanged and strained in it. “Your powers are weak, old man.”
“You can’t win, Psycho. If you strike me down, my estate shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine!” He spun the poker in his right hand, then swapped it to his left. He tried to speed up, but dropped it on his toe. Then he hopped on over to a bar stool and pulled off his boot. “Time!”
I just shook the Dudebot’s head.”That fancy stuff just has no place in a good fight.”
“They do it in all the movies,” he said, groaning and rubbing his toe.
I tossed the Cuban bread up into the air and caught it. “Yeah, and in movies there’s sound in space, too. If you know what to look for, you can tell the difference between good swordfighting in a movie and the fancy stuff made to look good.”
“How’s that?” He asked. He hopped up and over to the refrigerator to grab himself a beer, then back to the stool. He held the cold beer to his aching foot, then popped it open and helped himself to a drink.
“The serious ones are still elegant, but they look like they’re trying to hit each other and trusting in the other guy’s skill to save them. The jokey ones are trying to hit the other person’s sword.”
“My pappy always warned me about guys trying hit swords in the locker room,” he said, releasing a pained chuckle. “A lot of jokes don’t age well.”
“Eh, I think it’s a sign of progress that you eventually improve yourself to the point that you think your past self was a dumbass. There was a time I wanted to destroy the planet I lived on.”
He whistled and shook his head. “That doesn’t sound like a recipe for a long and healthy life.”
“Dilly dilly,” I said by way of agreement. Suddenly, the Dudebot fell to the side, the system blaring in my head about sudden penetrative damage. I looked down to see a hole in the side of the Dudebot’s thigh. A few things jingled in there. I stood it back up to see if it still supported the weight of the Bot. I knew that wasn’t necessarily the smartest thing if this was an attempted assassination and if I was there in person, but it was still a robot. It’d be a shame to blow the thing up and take Willie with it, but I’ve always been jealous of these jumped-up chimpanzees copying my toys. I got a good view of where the shot came from the hole in the glass, too. A building, taller than this one. I reached down and pulled out the bullet, getting a sense of its likely drop, then fired off the triple eye lasers. They burned through this building’s window and stabbing into an open one on that building. That helps too. Snipers really don’t like stuff getting in the way if they can help it.
With my assailant disposed of, I turned to see what Willie was up to. He was being thrown over the shoulder of a large man dressed all in black tactical gear. The big guy ran for the open balcony door, opposite the direction I’d been shot from. I pulled out a banana and threw it ahead of him. It squished under his boots and he skidded a short distance before having to catch his balance. It took little time, but it was enough for me to catch up to him and pull the screaming country star off his shoulders with one hand. He turned to me, but I went ahead and pushed him off the balcony. He was headed there anyway.
I carried him back inside, and that’s when the third part of this encounter kicked off. Ouroboros walked in, wearing his black costume. It was form fitting, because we supers tend to be a vain lot, and textured to look scaled. It looked like all one bodysuit, the mask covering the upper half of his head and extending down with a portion that resembled a pair of fangs before leaving his mouth exposed. In his hands, he held a pair of curved daggers. When I’d last seen him, they looked like bone. These were black, with a blue glow
“Sup,” I said, nodding toward him. “You’re probably wondering why I called you here tonight?”
“Yeah,” he said with a nod of his head, twirling a knife handle in his grip. “Something like that.” I couldn’t track his eyes behind lenses on his mask, but he probably got a good look at the gaping wound in my leg caused by, if I had to guess, a .50 cal.
Meanwhile, Willie Nelson clutched his stomach and stumbled off. “Where do you think you’re goin, highwayman?” I asked.
Ouroboros pointed after him with a knife. “He’s going to the bathroom.”
“How can you tell?” I asked.
He waved his hand in front of his face. “How can you not?”
I held my hands behind my back. “I think it’s apparent that I have improved myself a bit since we last met. I’m in an improving mood. That’s why, despite how we left things, I didn’t come here to be hostile. I came here to play nice. Sometimes that means grabbing another man’s Willie.”
“You must really like that joke,” he said.
“I do. My sense of humor’s pretty juvenile at times,” from the direction Nelson hobbled off came a long, thunderous fart. I chuckled to myself, some of which wound up transmitted.
After a moment of looking serious, Ouroboros put his hand in front of his mouth and made a show of yawning. “It’s late,” I caught the tiniest bit of his voice trying to crack with laughter, especially as the singer grunted in the other room.
“No,” I said, pointed after Willie. “That skunk in his pants is late. We are both very much alive.”
“Yeah. So, is this a talk or a fight?” Ouroboros asked.
I crossed my legs and sat right there on the floor. “I’ve got this thing I’m doing. A conference right now, but I want to build something from it. A social structure for villains.”
“A crime family,” he said.
I shook my head. “It’s not about control. I’ve got a rough idea that there might be some sort of council that represents everybody. Like, if someone has a problem that needs addressing on a larger scale, they take it to them.”
“Sounds like leadership,” he said. “I’m not in the market for a boss.”
“Neither am I. But I had an idea for being able to agree on boundaries or rules if need be. Two guys both try to carve out some territory and have a dispute, it might be handy to have some sort of mediation. Something better than a big mass vote. I mean, democracy? After these past couple of years?”
He almost smiled. “How many on this council? What kind of rules can they make?”
I shrugged. “That’s for people to hash out, but I suspect there aren’t going to be too many rules. But I’m thinking we have a couple firm ones set in stone. Murder and rape of supers, no matter the side.”
He idly spun his blades. “You’re going to live under these rules too?”
“Kinda, sorta, no. I’ll avoid all that to the extent I can, but I’ll be enforcing the rules and I think you know how that’ll play out. A villain kills another villain, I take them out. A hero kills a villain, ditto. Law enforcement, too, if they get too trigger happy. Not sure if a regular mundane bumps one of us off… now that’d be interesting. Maybe something for your council.”
“My council?” he asked.
“You’ve got power and influence. You show to this thing, you’ll convince more to come along. I scare people. Super people. They don’t like me. You’re respectable. You’re someone they can look up to. Stands to reason you’re a shoe-in for it, probably to head it up. But I’m the enforcer no matter what. The only person who can be.” The shot leg tried to lock up, but I banged on it and managed to get myself back to standing. “Meanwhile, we can both get a cut providing safe haven to other villains with weapons and ammo for sale. Have a social network. Help people work together. Hold fucking dances or holiday parties.”
“A lot of villains do that already,” Ouroboros said. He looked back over as Willie Nelson stepped back out of the bathroom wearing a towel as a makeshift kilt.
“They don’t invite me,” I said. “But I saw what the heroes have. They’re working together and stay in contact. They’re even working with those Rangers from the other dimension, and you guys don’t need two Earths worth of heroes on your hands. Anyway, Willie, have fun. I’ll send you some more weed for you to smoke or weave into pants or something.”
Ouroboros put a knife away and ushered Nelson out. Before he left completely, he turned to me. “Give me a few weeks, but I’ll be there. Feel free to let people know, but I expect a fast jet on standby in case someone tries something.”
I thought about it a minute, a smile forming across my face all the way over in Ricca, where my wife Citra and my daughter Qiang were braiding my hair. The smile was on me, but the Dudebot’s the one that thought back to my recovering agent on the plane, and to Escorpio Encantador flying off to Ricca on a different craft. “I bet I can get everyone to agree to a nice little ceasefire. I’m the enforcer, after all.” An enforcer who is NOT explaining this stuff to every Tom, Dick, and Harry from here on out. Repeating myself so much is giving me the worst case of lockjaw since that night Citra bet me I couldn’t find the clit. Joke’s on her, turns out it’s a myth. That, or I did manage to find it and she just pretended otherwise so I’d keep looking for some reason.
You know, when they talk about how to make friends and influence people, I don’t think they meant having one friend owe you for breaking him out of prison, or having bait for a team of super teenagers with attitude.
Which just proves my point about why I’m not the one who gets elected. I am the one who knocks… people’s skulls out through their anuses.
“Alright men, women, and that technicolor rainbow in-between,” I said, walking along a line of my new guardsmen. Some were made up of the same probationary people I’d brought onboard to help scout things out and keep the peace. “I’m going to quickly review the actions of the probationary members all by myself. I may be quiet a bit while I do all this in my head, but I am here, and I can’t be pantsed. I put a lot of work into my armor’s anti-pantsing technology.” I spread my hands so that people could take take in the glory that is my armor.
Then I fast-forwarded through a long period of time involving body cams, satellite footage, and global positioning. A couple hours later, I noticed the new Security Department rushing back into place or standing up. I feel like I should judge them on that, but I don’t know whether to be a dick and focus on the ones who stayed in place despite an unreasonable request, or favor the ones who weren’t stupid. In the end, I decided not to bother either way because it didn’t matter that much in light of everything else. I should start hiring some sort of middle management and let them worry about it for me. As the head dictator of the nation, I worry about bigger things. Hmm. I might have an idea there.
I folded my hands behind my back, ignoring the penis-shaped balloon hat on my armor. I’ll review my eye footage to see who dropped it on me, but getting mad at a penis hat is the sort of thing that only justifies a penis hat. I wore that penis loud and proud for all to see. So I walked along the line of Security folks, head and penis held high. “So, I see y’all have been busy. Drug deals, home invasions, muggings… The veteran Riccan police officers here have clearly been taking advantage of me being distracted.” I stopped in front of one of the repeat offenders. “Seriously, dude, the old folks home?”
He held that distant stare of someone at attention for a few minutes. When he figured out I wasn’t moving on, he finally offered an explanation for his actions. “I thought they would enjoy it. They don’t get a lot of men jacking it to them anymore.”
His offenses were entirely focused on exposing himself to geriatrics who, it should be noted, haven’t complained. I don’t know if that’s due to the longstanding corruption of a tyrranical governent or genuine appreciation. Long story short, his explanation satisfied me enough to move on. “Good man,” I patted him on the shoulder and gave him my penis hat.
I stepped away to call out one of them. He stepped forward, smug. “Yes, Emperor?”
I waved him even further, away from the others. I kept at it until he stood right in front of me. I clapped him on both shoulders, then pulled him into a hug. “I just wanted to tell you… I know about the children.”
Then I tossed him over head and activated his killswitch in my head. Kaboom! “Ok, now I need the guy to come forward who has been picking up people for his personal home dungeon, and I don’t mean the kinky kind.”
That one took off running in the opposite direction. The others looked back, but I held up a hand. “No, no, I got this… You see, folks, I have just one question for all of y’all, as people who are meant to keep everyone safe but who are tempted to abuse the power of your position to fuck things up… explosions?” The death of their fleeing comrade added emphasis to myquestion.
I sighed then. “I know, I know. I’m the last guy who should be talking about law and order, and I’m sure there’s some half-assed justification I could use to explain away both my affinity for chaos and my current desire for a little bit of domestic stability. Perhaps that is, indeed, some fundamental clash faced by all people. Regardless, guys, I have a big trip planned. Don’t make me have to murder all of you? Help me help you by not blowing you up! Oh, that reminds me,” I shot finger guns at some guy with a love of date-raping everything. That petting zoo will never be the same, and I didn’t even get to visit it first.
The line of Security personnel ducked for cover in time to avoid explosion. I continued on, interlacing my fingers together. “Listen, if y’all want me to inflict pain and suffering on the great White Satan, it’s really important that we keep the peace here. If people get rebellious, it gives those imperialist Western dogs an excuse to invade. If you aren’t police, there could be a police action. Plus, the better this place stays, the more reason I have to break shit off the island as opposed to coming back and asserting myself.”
I stopped to turn and look at one of them, who jumped. “I swear, I only took the bribes because I needed them to feed my family and buy cool new clothes!”
“I’m not killing you. Just step forward. Come on.” I let him approach, cautiously, like a tender baby deer. I looked to the others. “Now, as part of this, I want to go over a few things y’all shouldn’t do in normal interactions with the public. See, it’s about proportionate response. If I just go around blowing people up for taking bribes as I do for someone who drugs and fucks cuddly baby goats, it causes a bit of a problem. Sure, people might cut out all the little things… but more than likely, it’ll drive people to do more extreme things to match the sentence they inevitably know they’ll be facing, or to hide what they’ve done. I don’t want to be that guy. I’m with it. I’m groovy. I’m dyn-o-mite!”
I consider some of my address to be part of the punishment. For the newbies, it’s a warning. “So as a basic tip, when just casually interacting with the public, none of this.” I elbowed my current victim in the belly. He doubled over, gasping. “Nor any of this,” I stomped on his foot, causing a crunch. “Or this!” I kneed him in the balls. “And whatever you do, don’t, under any circumstances, resort to this…” I grabbed his ear and twisted it. That was really important as a final touch, because people with broken toes, reverberating balls, and the wind knocked out of them like to fall down.
With that taken care of and a couple more guards disciplined with “mandatory” prostate exams, I left them in the likely-incapable hands of the Directory. When I thought about it, I realized I could dump the responsibility on them to nominate someone to be head of the police force. I don’t know the constitution allows this, but I also don’t care, so I think it all works out.
I also had a talk with them about the possibility of nanite dispensers as cover for what I’d ordered to slip them into the water. And because I’d like some for the palace. But it was just while I was on my way out to go pick up the machine.
Some might ask why I’m even bothering. Well, I realized that one of the things I wanted to do was help this island I’ve taken over. Being me, I have to help in my own way. I’m just no hero, even when I do good things. I’m bad, and that’s good. I’ll never be good, and that’s not bad.
See, a more heroic person might set up helpful dispensers all over the island where the public can access them anytime they want, including people who are just abusing the service or stealing from them. A better person would set up a system of people to refill these dispensers, also becoming targets to people like me. It’s boring, it works, it feeds the criminal element, and it’s what anyone would expect.
Instead, I’m setting up a conspiratorial, secret system to pump them into the water in a controlled release that helps everyone. One place to deliver materials to, one place to guard, one set of workers to pay a little extra to keep their mouths shut. Besides, they deserved the extra money after keeping the entire place running during the recent crisis.
Yep, I seem to have taken everything into account… or so I thought until I checked in on the Bronze City and found Citra assaulting me with what may have been a spitoon. I shook the Dudebot’s head. “Sorry, dear, I was elsewhere. What seems to be the matter?”
“I want to come home. I hate this place. Do you know what this is?!” she held up the metal container she hit my robot duplicate with.
I shrugged my double’s shoulders. “Your very own spitoon. I’m not a chewer, myself, but I’ll support you if you take up the habit. We can have a big parade with the 1812 Overture and a twenty-one spit salute.”
“This is a chamber pot. This is what I have had to use instead of a bathroom!”
She raised it up high, as if to dump it on me. Then she took, as if remembering my leniency has limits, she threw it out a nearby window. From the sound of things, it made quite an impact when it landed. On a horse.
“I hope you’re happy,” I told her, “If you’re done beating a live horse with a jar full of piss, I can answer you. Yeah, sure, fine. Come on home. I’ve got to go on a trip anyway, so we’ll send over some ambassadors. Maybe someone who pisses you off. Oh, and hey, we can even see about getting your old body back.”
She hugged me for some crazy reason. Eh, you know how sensitive the womenfolk are when you force someone to change their identity, take away their indoor plumbing, and surround them with chauvanistic hedonists who like to fuck drunk people. They must have trouble thinking straight due to all the blood flowing to their dicks all the time.
But enough about chicks with sensitive dicks.
My final act of preparation, at least for now, involved me holding my hands over Qiang’s eyes. My daughter had often wanted to travel around with me when I’m in my armor, and I often refused. I do dangerous things, after all. “You know how you keep wanting to go on adventures with Daddy?” I asked her, then had to help her up after she stripped over a girly pink sandal. “Also, this is a good reminder about picking up your shoes out of the middle of the living room.
She picked up the one she’d tripped over. “Dad, this isn’t mine. It’s too big!” She held it up to see.
“I see it, hon. Just hold onto it for now,” I told her. Then, when I had her positioned just right, I moved my hands. “Ok, let’s take a look…”
I think she shattered a window. It was hard to tell, because my ears adjusted to block harmful noises. My eyes worked just fine, though. Qiang loved her new armor. She ran up and hugged it and jumped up and down. It followed a lot of my design aesthetics: padded nanomaterial underlayer with curved armor plate strips to deflect attacks and increase flexibility. No shoulder pads gives her full range of arm movement. The leg armor is a little lacking, primarily focused on the thighs and shins, but with the underlayer doubled. There IS a powered exo-skeleton, which isn’t so exo if it’s built into the armor, but I put some restrictions on it to keep her from doing anything like breaking her own limbs. If she does, she’ll have the benefit of a few built-in nanite distributors that I can activate remotely.
I don’t know what Qiang was saying due to the pitch and volume, but I got the sense she wanted to get in and try it out. I showed her how to undo the environmental seals and pull it on before slipping on her new helmet, with armor strips running along the head and the visor looking more like a scowl. I built it to resemble my old standard armor, complete with 360 cameras. Like the nanites, I can turn off some of it to prevent sensory overload.
This is a weapon, with some restrictions I can turn off at will. And, once she got into it, I held up her left arm and pointed it away from me. “Now, can you feel that thing hiding in there?”
She nodded her cute little helmet. “Want me to use it?”
I smiled. “Do it.”
A thin cable shot out of the underside of her arm. It hit a light in the air and shorted it with crackles and sparks. “That would be the electricity. You can turn that part off if you want. Now listen, this is a weapon. This hurts people. If it’s turned up enough, it can kill someone. Do you know what that means?”
She nodded quietly. I hugged her. “You have the option, but you don’t have to take it. Do you want me to turn off the electricity?”
She nodded again, so I shut it off. “Daddy, I don’t wanna hurt people.”
“You don’t have to, but now you have armor of your own,” I said. She hugged me tight, just us in our armors.
Empyreal City better watch out. I got a Little Psycho on my hands. No… not a psychopomp. She shouldn’t have to bear that label. A Little Dragon.
Citra made it out just fine, it turns out. She’s barricaded herself in our rooms at the Bronze Palace, but he’s fine. My Dudebot’s making excuses for sending her back to Ricca, so I’ll see about getting her on a ship back over there when I’m not busy with more important things.
Like measuring my daughter for a new outfit, which is what I was doing when I got interrupted by official duties in the form of a messenger from the Directors.“Sir, the United States wants to talk to you. They are unhappy you set foot off the island in violation of the treaty.”
I rolled my eyes, patted Qiang on the head, and picked her up. “Come, my dear, it’s negotiate with that country that used to be a world leader.”
I spoke with a man with close-shaved hair and a hard face. He looked like they picked him for his ability to look angry and constipated. No wonder my guys said they were unhappy. I stepped up to the screen. “And who do I have the displeasure of wasting time on?”
“You’re in enough hot water as-is, you jumped-up carjacker. What are you doing off your island?”
I looked around, then down. I stomped on the ground a few times. “I don’t know where you think I am right now, but I seem to be on the island.”
He held up spy satellite pictures of me in Ricca fighting the Dimension Rangers and me in the Bronze City meeting the delegation. I glanced at them. “Do you have timestamps?”
“You know damn well we do so we can prove you-”
I reached over to put my and on the Giant Screen I’d been talking through, cutting off this guy with images of my own. They showed footage of the landing and of the fight, alongside footage of a Dudebot gladhanding people on Ricca. “As you can see, either I can be in multiple places at once, or you’re looking at a copycat. Perhaps some despicable doppelganger trying to sully my good name. I’ll have you know I would have you know I haven’t violated any treaty I’ve signed with your country and I am insulted by the implication. Not insulted enough to attack you or anything, but mighty peeved, I tell ya what.”
I was being honest, too. Beetrice forged my name on the original treaty, meaning I never signed it myself. Not that it matters, as I’m quite at fucking the truth sideways in the ass, but I like being able to lie while telling the truth. The best truths are the ones that destroy other people.
After my righteous indignation, the posterboy for frustrated abstinence pointed his finger through the screen at me. “One of you is a goddamn robot, that’s what it is. Probably you.”
I wasn’t in my armor, which made the statement all the more odd. Completely lifelike robots are extremely difficult to maintain. There are sound considerations, movements, smells, and keeping the skin alive. I raised my finger. “Qiang, honey, stab daddy’s finger.”
Qiang looked between the angry man on the screen and me. I smiled at her. She slid her knife out of her dress and held it overhand to gently prick my finger. I turned the prick toward the other prick. “Do I not bleed? Do I not have a loving and obedient daughter to take care of? Have I not recorded this entire conversation to present to the world if you try any of that He-Man macho preemptive bullshit? And before you say it, I know that wouldn’t stop you.” I smiled and chuckled, before looking him in the eye. “I would.”
I shut off the screen, then kissed Qiang’s forehead. “Good job, sweety. That’s what daddy likes to call ‘proof of life.’ See, sometimes people need to be sure someone is alive. Usually, that’s just a matter of holding up that day’s newspaper next to the person, but sometimes you have to resort to blood, or even body parts. Any questions?”
After our impromptu lesson on one of the basics of hostage-taking, I brought Qiang along with me to tour the water treatment plant. She decided she’d rather go play, so I dropped her off with Silver Shark to go find a Cao Cao’s Pizza. It’s like Chuck E. Cheese, but with a man in a Japanese samurai outfit who goes around cutting pizzas with his sword. They have lots of games for kids. I tried looking up their history, but the internet had nothing on them except for news archives about children disappearing.
See, this is why I taught my daughter how to kill people and employ a cyborg shark-woman as her babysitter. It keeps me from becoming one of those awful helicopter parents.
Anyway, the water treatment plant. It’s one of the more manageable aspects of my future plan. I was surprised I neglected this place in my first run-through of the island’s facilities. I mean, food’s doing ok. I believe they settled with the Scientologists. I sometimes see Old Man Hoodless roaring by the beach on his new speedboat. Power’s going well now that we’ve got multiple crews trained. I’ve approved the repatriation of the kidnapped nuclear plant crew via quietly dumping them in out of the way places on the Japanese mainland. But I haven’t had a crisis about water so far, and that’s actually pretty awesome.
Lots of systems are like that. The invisible cogs of the world that most don’t think about so long as they work. They can be a real fuckwaffle to fix or get started. That’s why I brought gift baskets for my visit. Sake, cheese, and some sort of medals the Director found for loyalty and hard work. They wouldn’t tell me which of the brothels sell gift cards, so I left those out.
It wasn’t a fancy operation. They had it parked on the south end of the island, right on the coast. Despite my good intentions, I suspect many of them were eager to swim away as I stepped inside to greet them. “Goooood morning my loyal aqua engineers! H2Oh boy aren’t y’all glad to see me? Water y’all doing this fine day?!”
Bad jokes are only a tiny part of the reason I went there to see the bright and shiny faces of the people keeping us hydrated. They didn’t have so many of the bright and shiny faces. Weary, sure. They pulled off confused and curious as well, but the place didn’t have much of a PR department. Then again, when your selling point is “Support us or have no water,” you don’t need a lot of tact to make a deal.
They had a mixed crowd of men and women working there, which is nice to see. They sent forward a man to represent them. “I am Shu, the spokesman for the Water Collective.”
“Collective?” I asked. “I am unfamiliar with y’all and assumed I’d be speaking with a manager or supervisor or something. Please enlighten me.”
Shu and I walked and talked as he took me on a tour of the water purification systems. They showed me the water treatment, ozone, and filters, and I pretended to be fascinated. It was still handy information to have in case I ever need it or need to help fix it, but it also wasn’t as cool as the laser room. Turns out they separate salt from water using a delicate process involving a large industrial laser. Some of the steam from that can be diverted to power an on-site turbine, which kept it self-sufficient while the power was off. They’re also selling the sea salt.
I nodded along hearing how it all came together in what Shu described as a wonderful and complex cycle of water up until they fired it off for me. I couldn’t help but get excited watching stimulated light boil the water into leaving behind salt crystals. “There are doors that close over there so we can get to the salt and access for maintenance… Emperor?”
Shu had to ask after me because I was hugging the observation window and emitting a high-pitched pleasure noise. “It’s ok. I’m just wondering if it has any penis-sized holes.”
“No sir, and we don’t like the laser breaking down,” he said. “But you are the Emperor.”
I unstuck myself from the observation window reluctantly as the laser powered down. I shook myself off to get the tingly feelings off the back of my head. “No, it’s fine, it’s fine. Still, I’m going to need a few things now.”
“We will do our best, sir. What can we get you?” asked Shu.
“I’m gonna need either a crapton of popcorn, or a secret agent. Even better, find me a secret agent and stuff him full of uncooked popcorn.” I was already looking up to find out where they popcorn grows and if we export any.
“I do not believe we can do this. Would you like to continue the tour instead?” he bowed, perhaps to hide his expression in the face of my reactions while also showing respect.
I nodded along with residual enthusiasm from the water-slaughtering death machine they’d demonstrated. “Sure, sure, I got ya. Listen, let’s just cut to the thing I showed up here for in the first place. What I need to know is if you have something already built to pump chemicals into the water supply.”
Shu raised his face back up, his smile failing to reach the corner of his eyes. “Of course. This way, my Emperor.”
It’s not really a surprise they built the place to do that, too. “Here it is, Emperor.” Shu presented me to a set of tanks hooked into the outgoing water supply. “These are the flouride tanks. We haven’t had flouride in them for years, though.”
“Flouride? I’m surprised Claw cared so much.”
She scratched the back of his head. “The rumors say a scientist told him he could use flouride in the drinking water to make people into mindless followers, when he was really a foreign operative meant to trick the Claw. The project did nothing but improve people’s teeth.”
“Interesting,” I said, climbing up to examine some of the tanks. All empty, but I think they’ll work. “Who did he work for? CIA? KGB? MI-6?”
“The American Dental Association,” Shu responded, getting a laugh from me.
“A dentist, eh? They stick him in a chair and take a drill to him for interrogation? Now that’s some poetic justice.” I rubbed my hands together, nearly salivating at the idea.
“No,” Shu answered, “The man had a cyanide tooth. They checked him for such, but the tooth was perfectly installed and eluded detection.”
“Well,” I said, slamming a hand down on the side of the tank. “These things are perfect, and tooth enthusiasts like that dastardly dentist may yet get their wish. I’ve got an idea. We’re going to inundate the local waters, you see. Special nanomachines that don’t quite operate the way the medical ones do.”
“Sir?” he asked.
I clapped my hands together. “Imagine if all you anyone needed to do to get over illness was enjoy water from the tap? Get over a cut off limb by soaking in a bath, even. It’s one of the first ideas I have in mind for improving things.”
The guy seemed a bit jumpy. He didn’t need to know about my planned instructions to mess around a bit with people bodies. See what I can do to impress some of those same abilities into people, much in the way I’ve upgraded my own flesh. I resolved to think more on whether it should all be controlled manually or subject to a program running experiments.
I had plenty of time to think about it after I left the treatment facility to head back to the palace and begin work on a child-sized suit of power armor. Unfortunately, the surprise was ruined when Silver Shark and Qiang burst in looking like they’d been in something of a tussle.
“Problem, dears?” I asked, smiling at them.
“We are never going back there again!” Silver said. I took it to be a normal allergic reaction to kid saturation until Qiang added to the conversation.
“They had robot animal samurai on a stage to play music, and then they let them walk around, and, and, and then one of them tried to take me in the back for a prize. He turned out to be a person in a suit with a knife, so I stabbed him, like this!” She demonstrated a hard, swift stab at the air in what would be crotch-level for a grown adult.
“Good girl!” I said, clapping for her.
“In your name, I beat the crap out of him and dropped him off at the base. If I didn’t have Qiang with me, I’d have taken my time,” Silver said. “You really need a police force to help with all this. You stay busy.”
“I have a lot I’m doing,” I told them. “Have to get the island ready for a brief absence, and that sounds like another area I need to work on.” And it’s true. I’m not just handling busy work. There’s much to prepare before I take my kid along with me to visit the United States. Speaking of, I may have to teach her to HALO jump.
Everything seems to be coming up Gecko lately. In all the excitement of smacking down the Rangers and viciously murdering a plant, I noticed a loose thread I’ve worked on snipping off. And I had every intention of snipping Vercingetorix. I’m good with knives and other sharp objects.
Truth is, I expected him to be at the tree instead of the Dimension Rangers. Or I expected him to make a move at some time during my Dudebot’s arrival and coronation. A drunken orgy is a pretty good time to get some killing done. Some of them will even help you if they think someone’s into auto-erotic asphyxiation. Awful hard to scream for help around a ballgag.
But enough about drunken, murderous sex and debauchery; let’s return to talking about my life.
As I said, I expected to be ambushed sooner. It’s a good thing I was wrong, because fighting the barbarian warrior and the Dimension Rangers at once could have gone badly for me. For whatever reason, he held off. It’s not a matter of presence, either. The miniscule Riccan Navy found his boat, but with no signs of life. I suspect he rendezvoused with the Rangers again. They’re probably all buddy-buddy for some reason.
I didn’t stay paranoid over him, though. I’d had ideas stemming from a certain clarity related to my desires. They were a different sort of ambition. I’ve been looking over the tattered infrastructure of this island and getting ideas on how to improve it. A way to make this place a real gangster’s paradise in which someone could live all their life, even if the Directors think that my mind is gone.
I mean, I’ve got these miracle machines. They keep me alive, and others, but my antics have likely blinded most of the world to their true potential. That’s not entirely a bad thing. I’m not going to get all paternalistic and say I’ve kept anything from people for their own good. I’ve made it clear that I keep stuff from these people for my own good. Have fewer of these savage homo sapiens running around, able to heal in a fight or regenerate from the brink of death and losses of limb. I’d say something about imagining the possibilities, but I’m it. Who knows how many times I’d have died by now?
So I’ve started drawing up a plan. I got ideas about this place now. Ideas that’ll change the world. Move it into the future. And that means letting go of the past. That’s not a metaphor. The Bronze City is Bronze Age. I’m really not seeing the hype here. I think it’s because I’m sober. Well, technically, I’m represented by a robot, and those don’t get drunk off alcohol. Don’t get me wrong, some of them are nasty drunks. You don’t have to worry about fight bite, but they pull hair. You have to come at them waxed or oiled. Then digits go everywhere and things get kinda weird. I preferred being oiled.
You know, it’s more like Bronze City than I realized at first.
My Dudebot’s been touring the place, seeing the city from the ground with my own robot copy’s eyes via wireless connection. The lovely fighting pit. The bazaar and its wonderful cultural items, like big-donged fertility statues. The great library and its wonderful poetry, with such wonderful cultural works. Learned a new beer recipe.
The only thing of any value was the damn money. Electrum. But gold, silver, and copper are only so valuable. I think I really got screwed on this marriage. Speaking of Citra, she really didn’t take the fighting pit very well. They wanted to show us a fight, so they brought out a trio of prisoners, all oiled up and shaved. I asked the guide about it. His title translates to something like a consul, and he’s milking that job for all the beard oil he can get. Slick and curled like a mofo. I bring him up because I turned to ask him why they bothered with the oiling up. It was a weird coincidence, given my other thoughts on oil. It’s like when you hear a word for the first time and start noticing it everywhere.
“Your majesty,” he began. “The oil is very important. It beautifies the prisoners for our viewing. Just look at that man’s beautiful arms. Those are the arms of a smith who forged counterfeit coins. And that woman there needs all the oil she can get. Just look at those tiny breasts. She needed serious help.”
I looked down on high. The King’s platform was the highest along the oval rim of the pit. Everyone else had these wood benches around the lip that gave a limited view of anything too close. They were also at least thirty feet above the worn grass of the pit’s floor where the armed prisoners stood. “What did she do? Prostitution?”
He gasped. “We would never think of sentencing someone to the pit for prostitution. Whoring is not against the law. What kind of uncivilized brutes do you take us for?”
I pointed to the woman. “So what did she do?”
“She was discovered to be the infamous Fish Gutter. She tempted young boys away from virtuous love, but that’s not all. She would gut and clean the boys like fish. She is insane.”
I need to install penises on my Dudebots for times when I get so aroused I need more than one body to express it. I wish I could see her work, but I’ll settle for seeing her boobs. Petite, but rather nice and shapely, with such tiny, pink areolas. They’d shaved her head clean. For whatever reason, they didn’t bother with the armpits, pubes, and ass when it came time to make the prisoners look good for fighting. Such uncivilized brutes.
Still, the day looked pretty good with bloodsport on the menu. The crowd hushed around us all as they wheeled out a cage. Imagine my disappointment when I saw the big, bad beasty was a cuddly, if somewhat large, koala. The Consul spoke up. “Oh my, they sent no word this was the entertainment of the day.”
Just to be clear, koalas are Australian, which makes them both intrinsically cuter and incredibly deadly. The same can be said of their women and beer. If y’all are waiting for the word “respectively,” there than you’ve never seen a bottle of Aussie lager or risked the deadly embrace of a Tasmanian She-Devil.
Mmm. I should see what Tasmanian She-Devil’s up to these days. Things ended badly, but I grew those pieces back. I think she still has my copy of Iron Maiden’s The Best of the Beast.
Enough with the distractions. I must get back to the bread and circuses. A bunch of these tunic-loving guys rolled out the cage, then moved around behind it. With a tug, they used a rope to pull over a lever on the front that dropped the cage’s door open. They sprinted out of there as fast as they could run, while the koala just sat there. The crowd actually gasped when it began to crawl toward the prisoners. All three looked shaken and slippery.
The koala finally reached the edge of the cage, looked up, then opened its mouth to expose finger-thick fangs. It pounced from twenty feet away and began tearing out the throat of the forger smith. The screams were amazing. So was the gore. It had terrible table manners. I wondered how I could domesticate one. Not all animals will chew down through the throat into the chest cavity. “What is that thing? That’s no normal koala.”
Citra covered her face with her hands, getting a few looks. Elda, who she resembles, was better known as rebellious and trying real hard to be independent. The Consul glanced at her before focusing on me to answer. “That is a gravity bear. The beast from above. They can be found in the wilds of our lands, hidden in trees to drop on the unwary and unfortuante.”
It gutted the Fish Gutter. “A koala bear that drops down from trees and murders people?” I asked. “Sounds delightful. Does this one have a name?”
“Like a pet?” asked the Consul, eyes wide. A scream from the pit drew both of our attention back to it. The last prisoner tried to crawl away, one of his legs held in the mouth of the koala. He was still free to escape, though, as that leg was no longer attached to his body.
“A pet wouldn’t be a bad idea if it could be- fuck!” The platform under us groaned and tipped forward, spilling the consul, Citra, a couple of guards, and some sycophantic nobodies into the arena. I went to catch myself on a rail, but the wood gave way under the weight of my armor and I crashed down to.
The monstrous marsupial mauled a man. Could tell that from the screams, even with Citra yelling her head off. I looked up to see the thing chowing down on the consul. The beard will be missed.
Unlike the doppelganger of Vercingetorix, which was an upgraded humanoid drone, this one was built to this purpose. It wasn’t a problem to get it to its feet and grab the creature in mid-jump before it could spoil Citra’s face. It claws and bit at my armor, but couldn’t penetrate. Even if it did, there was no blood to be spilled. Instead, punched straight through its chest and tore out its heart, then dropped it on its ass. From that position, I punted its head off into the crowd, eliciting gasps and cheers.
Though they enjoyed the spectacle, and Citra was glad to be alive, I wasn’t celebrating just yet. I turned to see what had happened to our platform and found Vercingetorix looking out over the wall by the shattered wood supports that had held up the King’s box. He ululated and more people began crying in panic as doors around the edges of the fighting pit opened and animals flooded out. I grabbed Citra. “Time to go, dear.” I tossed her up into the wealthy part of the crowed, where all the fat people sat and were busy trying to get up and flee lions, wolves, and other things that had been meant to die for their entertainment.
It cost me a hit across my back by Vercingetorix, who had hurdled the wall and advanced with a spear in one hand, a woodchopping axe in the other. He’d tried to shishkebab me, but it didn’t penetrate. I turned and tore the spear’s point off, but he just raised the axe meant for splitting logs and tried to split my noggin. One swing and a miss. Two swings and a miss. I caught the third one on my gauntlet. Yeah, embedding it didn’t do shit except let me grab it and pull it straight out of his hands. I headbutted him to stumble him, but it did jack squat.
He headbutted me right back, which also did nothing. So I gave him one back next, and then he returned it. Instead of a third, I chopped his wood with the axe. Yep, I swung it low to high into his loincloth. He dropped to his knees. When I brought it down overhead, he grabbed my arm and, for a short time, strained enough to hold me at bay. He gritted his teeth and spoke to me then, his voice showing his exertion. “You are a fake. I will not be the last man you have to slay to secure your rule. You can not step over corpses forever.”
His eyes betrayed him, but too late. He glanced to the side. A bolt as thick as my unarmored arm shot into my side, cutting in and pushing me down. I dropped the axe from the blow. What I’d missed in all the distraction was his sidekick had wheeling in a smaller ballista, avoiding lions and all sorts of nasty predators that had since found their way to the crowd. They hadn’t bothered me for the same reason the giant bolt didn’t bother, I believe.
Vercingetorix grabbed the axe and raised it overhead for a killing strike. I raised the Dudebot’s right arm and fired the rocket on that arm. The forearm detached from the rest of the arm and latched onto Vercingetorix’s throat. He dropped the axe to struggle with the choking hand at his windpipe. I caught it with the Dudebot’s left and buried in the barbarian’s stomach. I chopped and chopped, but at a human body and spine instead of a tree. When he fell, the hand dropped away and the axe removed from him his now-purple head.
“I am the future,” I said, dropping the axe and reattaching the right arm. I didn’t have a crowd, as everyone else had fled. Even those guards. Oh wait, there they were, or at least their bodies. They got mauled by something. “And I am the death of the status quo. The apocalypse of the old ways has begun.”
Ah, the complications of being ruler. I have to do so much, it’s like I’m required to be in multiple places at once. Luckily, I have the Dudebots. My magic metal me’s. It’s not that hard if you’re used to that sort of thing. Like texting while evading police in a high-speed chase while masturbating. I was going to say “jacking off,” but there was this one time it was Jill instead of Jack. Tricky, that. Pushing the wrong button means stomping on a pedal at the wrong time.
So I got more than one “me” out there, all controlled by the real me. One Dudebot sped into the Bronze Harbor of the Bronze City to meet the Bronze Men, all on a speedboat. It had to pass underneath the Bronze Colossus too, a giant statue of a guy in armor, armored skirt included. I, by which I mean the robot in this instance, stood upon the deck beside Citra and pointed up at it as we passed beneath. “It’s like a penis, except smaller.”
Yep, handling multiple Dudebots isn’t so much a problem unless my mind wandered. My mind wandered. I kept thinking about having to lock Qiang in a bunker again in case something goes wrong with this outing. I wanted to be back with her. She shouldn’t be locked away, guarded by men with guns, unable to see her father. I should be there with her, playing or taking care of her or just teaching her something useful. Like basic field first aid.
They had a delegation meet us at the docks, with a whole parade, and several servants carrying wine. I didn’t think they were that eager that I’d defiled their princess and claimed their throne as an outsider, but that wasn’t enough to keep them from having a party with lots of alcohol. I could see myself finding common ground with these people. This place would make a hell of a market for all kinds of goods. Personal razors, toothbrushes, and deodorant. Especially deodorant. When I saw Citra’s new nose crinkle, I leaned over to fix a pine tree necklace around her neck. Even if I wasn’t king, I could own this place with nothing but a boatful of pine car fresheners and a dream.
“Greetings, Bronze City of Mu,” I began, having my armor put out a deeper and more commanding tone. “I am Emperor Gecko of Ricca, king of the Bronze City by marriage of the Princess Elda.” Here I indicated Citra, who stayed quiet. One minor flaw in my plan is that Citra, while way easier to control, doesn’t know how to speak the language. I hooked her up with an earbud that can translate, but she’s stuck to smiling and looking pretty for the moment.Ya know, there might be some problems with this plan, but I DID say I wouldn’t go through with marrying Elda.
I continued on with my speech, by the way. Just in case anyone was forgetting that. “You will be no lesser subjects to me than those I already serve the interests of.” So what if they smell funny and act backwards? They’re only human, which is just another way of saying they smell funny and act backward anyway. “And I shall do all I can to see a great merger of our nations and our ascendancy to greatness! Glory to Ricca, and to the Bronze City!”
I don’t know if I’m just that good at speaking, or if they’d already broken into the wine, but I was a big hit. They got the party rolling on down the road, with myself and Citra on a chariot, waving at people. The palace awaited.
Meanwhile, I dropped out of a cargo copter within the near-lifeless crater in the center of the continent of Mu. My HUD could read an unusual life profile from the tree, though. It was no normal plant. Oddly, nothing picked up by my armor pointed to it being a magical anomaly. Those tend to be rather distinctive due to their incompatibility with my physiology and most of your more advanced smart technology.
The chopper lowered a couple crates of supplies I cut free, in case things need to get violent. Only after I had those firmly on the ground did I bother approaching. As the old proverb goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound on your own face.”
It was when I turned to finally make my approach that the problems started. Five colored streaks shot from the sky and slowed to land between tree and me. The color faded and there before me stood five young men and women with attitude. And before them stood a rubber chicken struggling to get to its little feet and find a road. The one in the red shirt had enough sense to kick it away, but it detonated close enough to knock them all flat.
I jumped over and very nearly planted my knee in the chest of the red ranger on landing, but the one in the slim, void black armor ran up as if it’d just been hiding there and held its molecular blade out for me to impale myself on. I threw my weight back hard to alter my fall and saved myself from yet another sword to the lung. It knocked the air out of me, but I forced myself to get to my knee. The only ranger who had me beat in that regard was still this Black one, who ran and swiped to take my head off.
I rolled toward him and kicked up, hitting wrist with heel and snapping that blow well away. I dropped back and kipped up to my feet. I caught the ranger’s wrist and twisted to break it, then slapped him upside the helmet with my other hand, and then again with a backhand. “Ranger? I don’t even know ‘er! No one else will either, before too long.” I went to chop his throat, but his armor shifted and pushed me away as it was replaced with the bulkier armored version.
“You stepped out of your safe haven and into a grave, Psychopomp,” the black ranger said.
“Don’t get too eager. I’ll have to spank you and send you crying to your daddy.” I quipped back.
“You killed my father!” he yelled and rushed forward.
I jumped back, even as holograms projected off of me, seemingly sending me flying everywhere. With the weaker hologram system on this armor, I couldn’t pull off this many flawless projections, so I didn’t even try. They were all ghostly and see-through, but they were everywhere, obscuring me. The ranger stopped, looking around at me and swiping experimentally.
Something bonked off his helmet. He caught it before it could drop down. It was a rubber chicken head. That’s when he looked down and when the chicken grenade blew up.
He flew into the air, sparks shooting out. I jumped up after him, grabbing his leg with one hand so the artificial muscles in my armor’s legs could propel us both further into the air. The song Higher And Higher blasted from my armor.
The gauntlet not gripping the hero began to glow as an energy sheathe glowed into existence around it. At the apex of our climb, I turned and wrapped my legs around the Black ranger’s waist. He tried to stick me with his sword, but my free hand kept the blade under control with the aid of the rockets built into the elbow. Indeed, I used the other arm’s rocket to help power us down even faster from on high. I cut it seconds before impact to pull my hand back, unhitch my legs, and punch on impact.
Now, there’s technically no thing as “pure energy” as it’s all about how much work something can do. When applied to a field around someone’s forearm and fist and unleashed through a punch, thiscan include burns and a devastating increase in the force exerted. Add in gravity, rocketry, and an exoskeleton.
I was momentarily blinded by sparks upon impact with the ground and the Black ranger’s body. The ranger’s armor burst away from all the damage and the person behind it all lay there staring up at me with a chest that had been cratered with a hole straight through at the nadir.
He’d tried to kill me to avenge his father. Now being a father, I kinda hope Qiang would do that for me if someone killed me. Except it didn’t work out quite so well for this guy, I suppose. And she’ll never be my equal. I’d never let her go through the things that made me. A parent should want a better life for their child, after all. I realized that if the black ranger’s dad had loved his son, there’s no way he would have wanted them to follow a path that would lead to this.
I began to have those things, kinda like anger, hatred, loathing, hostility, rancor, animosity, enmity, disgust, irritation, scorn, spite, repugnance, revulsion, and sexual arousal. Like feelings, I guess, but confused. Lucky I didn’t have to think too hard on it because of all the pains hooting through my body from my arm.
I stood up slowly, having taken the fall a bit roughly in spite of the punch helping to counteract that as well. In fact, my right arm wasn’t responding. I reached over to jam it back into socket, which also hurt like getting kicked in the dick by someone wearing hornets for high heels. It would have given me better motion except for the breaks. Never know when first aid’s going to be handy. However, I had better aid. I reached down with ol’ lefty, the reliable stranger, to search out a container of nanites for injection. I pulled one loose, but a plasma bolt burst it in my hand. I turned to seek out the origin and found the remaining five rangers morphed, all holding the pistols of this iteration. They always have the pistols, or some equivalent.
“Dead or alive, you’re-” the Red one started, but Green opened fire prematurely. Given it was a woman, I’m inclined to believe she doesn’t usually go off prematurely. I raised my left arm, the system absorbing the energy to power a shield while recharging my suit’s batteries. The other rangers joined in then. The first few fizzled away harmlessly; the next bounced off. I opened my hand and caught one, though it was really held by a glowing barrier before it could touch the palm of my gauntlet. That one I threw at the green one, who flew backwards in a shower of sparks.
Red and Blue ran to check on her. The last two, White and Yellow, charged for me. Two rangers, and I was down an arm. Too bad for them that left me a free head, arm, and both legs. They never stood a chance. The White one ran around to get behind me, an axe appearing in her hands. Yellow drew a pair of daggers and swung them at me. I aimed my left arm back and hit the rocket. It dragged me back and bumped into white, who fell down in mid swing, the energy adding much more to the strike than I put into it. Then I threw a projection of me accellerating in a rocket punch right at Yellow. Yellow swung for it and was left open when I did so for real, sending him flying.
That gave me a sorely needed moment to grab an injector of nanites. It wasn’t my favorite way to heal up, but I opened up the crotch panel on my armor and jabbed away. I stood there and looked at the rangers. They’d taken the time to regroup and stand all in a line opposite me. I raised my right hand and tested it, then swung my arm around. “Now that I don’t have one hand tied behind my back, we can really start playing.”
I noticed they had the body of the Black ranger pulled up behind them. I nodded toward him. “Were you close?”
“What do you care, psychopath?!” yelled the Green ranger.
I raised a finger as I made my point. The Rangers not being so used to this world’s culture, they may not have realized the index finger is the one I was supposed to have used. “Psychopomp. But he meant something to you, right?”
She pulled her pistol and fired again, which I snatched out of the air. “I’m assuming that’s a yes. So I’m going to do something for you. He died because it was his life or mine. If we continue, maybe, maybe you inch out a win. But you don’t all survive it. I killed him easily, and just beat the crap out of two of you with just one hand. Just walk away. Leave me here and I’ll spare your lives. Just walk away and I’ll give you a safe passage out of these wastelands. Just walk away and there will be an end to your horror today.”
“What if we want to risk it?” asked Blue.
It was a risk, showing trust. It’s not entirely bad. Just look what happened when Master Academy took a chance on me! Nevermind, look away from when Master Academy took a chance on me. Especially with that robot I sent them in the mail.
The crate that had been dropped for me burst out. A swarm of copter drones spread out around a trio of tanks. Red and I looked right at each other for several long seconds before he nodded. He reached down and grabbed the body of the Black ranger. They all zipped away in their colored lights.
I took a breath then, and turned to this Tree of Wonders. I stepped carefully overs its roots that I would have sworn moved out of the corner of my eye, even though my helmet gave me such a wide view of the area around me.
Things kept coming to mind. Venus. Taking over the world again. Wiping the Rangers from existence. Making the world know I am right. Anything I wanted, I had here, in the palm of my hands. I didn’t quite realize when I’d reached out and touched it. Supreme power. Immortality. I wondered briefly if I could magic one of Venus’s eggs fertilized. Or kill her. Or force her to love me. Ugh, I should magic myself into getting over her.
I could finally die. I could make my past never happen, too, though what would that do to Qiang? Or the world, I suppose, given how many times I’ve ended up saving it. Mainly Qiang. And did I even care for real, or just because I knew I should?
I pulled away. What I could do is one thing, but what did I want? I wanted to live, and I had what I needed for that. The Rangers? I could handle them. Hell, I’ve gotten so strong I can scare them away instead of having to kill them. Take over the world? Done it once. Can always do it again.
I wanted to destroy this tree and go teach my daughter how to pop her arm back into her shoulder. I took a step back and tripped over roots that had risen. They moved quickly to wrap up my arms, but I pulled free with my armor. Why would I want to go free? I could have everything I wanted if only I stayed. I could have it all, but I didn’t want it all. And I didn’t want some stupid plant putting thoughts into my head.
I tore my way free, having to crawl over reaching tendrils of root. They tried to pile on anyway, weaker, but incredibly numerous. But I had numbers, too. The drones swooped in and concentrated their fire all around me, tearing through roots and giving me a chance to pull free. “I didn’t just kill a man to die to a plant.” I brushed myself off, then pointed back with my thumb. “Let’s burn this bush.”
I didn’t leave until that tree and its roots were ashes. Then I went to go see my damn daughter while ignoring Citra’s pleas to return to Ricca after my Bronze City coronation turned into a drunken orgy.
I insisted I didn’t want a big ceremony. I was still insisting it as they uncovered a gilded statue of me. I still insisted, but, ya know, gilded statue. Quietly, I insisted. But still I insisted. Gold’s a bit tacky in those amounts… in the powerful curves of my armor… bringing to life the fierce expression on my helmet. Sometimes, you don’t realize how pretty something is until you see a giant version made of valuable metal.
The gilty party in question was a statue of my armor, since that’s how I appear to most people. I’m usually seen out and about in my armor, though the Directors insisted I make an exception. The people here are so confident in their newly-gained self rule that they completely blew off any ideas I had of making this a smaller affair. “It’s not every day that the Emperor marries,” said one guy with a really tall top hat. “You’ll look amazing in your regalia.” He smartly turned, clicking his heels together, and walked off.
“Regalia?” I asked, thinking to pictures of kings in pantaloons and heavy spotted coats, heavy crowns on their heads and holding orbs. “It better not be something where I end up holding some balls!” I hear they’re heavy, just like those big crowns, and I’m already picking up one ball and chain.
Ugh. I’m relying heavily on cliche here, but I have to watch how much things go that way. Cliche is predictable. Predictability is an easy way to die. So it was that I watched my back thoroughly when I stood at the altar in fancy robes, a sash forming an X across my chest. It was part of the tradition on Ricca.
I don’t know if they cared about Western wedding traditions, but I hit up the town for a night of strippers and blow anyway. I was awoken the next morning by the owner of the petting zoo, who found me in a cage with a pair of dead hookers and a pregnant goat. “It’s not what it looks like!” I said to the man, who stared at me like someone whose world had come crashing down. I tried to explain and pointed to the hookers, “They were already dead when I found them last night!” The goat licked my face then, so I pushed its head away and pointed to its very heavy belly, “And, uh, I’m pretty sure this thing was already knocked up.”
Somewhere there’s a pissed-off CIA section chief berating his spies, saying, “Do you know who this guy is? We need more than zombie prostitutes and interspecies erotica to hold over his head! That’s every goddamn Wednesday for him!”
At least the goat had been shaved lately. Elda’s people were a little behind the time in grooming standards for women.
As far as guests went, I invited all the people I was told were important. More than that, I had other guests I expected. A squad of Deep One militia had spotted a trireme while on patrol. They offered to go and blow it up with more mines, but I declined. I wouldn’t mind them rigging something to blow up the ship once the survivors of that little voyage set sail again, but the Deep Ones haven’t shown me they can be trusted to follow those kinds of orders yet.
They normally prefer weddings in real buildings, but they had to balance the importance of the occasion with the lack of a real palace. The Directors were more than happy to let us borrow their marquee. Fun fact: a really big tent is called a marquee.
Elda stood there with a white dress on, Chinese style with a high collar, a flower laurel in her hair. She’d actually bathed and allowed herself to be made up, and it improved on her looks.
They’d attempted to keep her as close to Riccan traditions as possible, but she’d resisted and clearly won the right to carry a knife with her. She’d made her point to the Directors about needing to sacrifice to her gods during the ceremony. And something about the two of us bathing each other. They worked in some of her traditions, and arranged for animal sacrifice beforehand. It gave the chefs time to sneak the corpse of the lamb to the kitchen. I checked the knife for blood regardless.
To get us to standing in front of the altar, I had to skip a LOT of drudgery. And, like everyone in the middle of getting married, I knew y’all were eager to skip to all the action. I most certainly was.
So I stood there, at the altar, looking uncomfortable, with some strange woman I don’t know holding my hands and looking into my eyes, joining her life to mine, or whatever things people associate with weddings. If I had to put a name to the feelings running through me at the moment, I would have said paranoia, frustration, and a desire to kill someone. But those are the standard ones I have all the time. Confusion added to it as I tried to consider the whole marriage thing and what the fuck it’s even for. I’m going to go with property rights as my final answer on that one.
Case in point, someone tried to give me an axe. Instead of being laid out on one of the tables full of gifts, it came in the hand of a sweaty muscled guy crashing through the top of the tent. It would have made quite the surprise if he wasn’t screaming. I instinctively pulled Elda close, but people probably mistook that for trying to shield her rather than myself. Vercingetorix turned the blade away from hitting her, which meant it missed me by happy coincidence. Perhaps as a consequence of him and his gang coming in from above, the tent started to collapse inward.
I turned to get Elda and I out, but a clang and a pain in my side preceded me getting lifted and thrown. When I landed, I have to say I was impressed. Standing up amidst falling fabric cutting off the view, I let the illusion of the ridiculous wedding costume disappear, revealing my armor. My unpenetrated armor, though it still hurt a little to get hit like that. That left Elda with Vercingetorix. She pulled her knife and took a slice at him.
Elda was dedicated to being an independent warrior princess. Too bad she sucks at fighting. Vercingetorix dodged her easily. He grabbed her hand and spun her around so that he was holding her cross her throat with just one hand. “You must come with me away from this place!”
“With you, the man who murdered my father?!” She kicked him in the balls before stomping down on his foot. He didn’t let her go, but then she bit down on his forearm and didn’t let up even after the blood spurted. Hey, I taught her that. Had to put a few guys on medical leave before she got it right.
The tent finished collapsing on us all and I had to tear my way through it. I saw a pair of lumps where Elda and Vercingetorix had been fighting and, past them, several members of the wedding party finding their way free. I wondered if people were going to find those complementary knives under all their chairs. Elda cut her way out. Vercingetorix behind her grabbed at the fabric, and I saw opportunity.
I ran forward as if to help Elda, and wrap her in my arms. My momentum, sadly, carried us a bit too close to the lump that was Vercingetorix. She tried to get out of my grip. “What- ah!” The tent tore, and skin with it. Elda’s legs collapsed under her but I still held her up as Vercingetorix stepped out for all to see.
“I can still save her!” I yelled, picking up Elda and starting to carry her away to the residence.
Vercingetorix seemed shocked for a moment, then perhaps more so at the arrival of a half dozen tank drones, twenty deep ones, a helicopter, and a cohort of pissed-off wedding guests with knives. It didn’t help when Silver Shark threw a bear at him and VelocityRaptor chucked another pair of accomplices at him. Almost as an afterthought, the wedding cake rolled over from the side and a bikini-clad soldier burst from the top with a battle cry, a pair of SMGs in his hands. Things went silent for a moment. It was a cry by the Bronze Man sailor that finally shook the barbarian into taking his friends and fleeing.
I was supposed to be looking after my bride, who I’d carried over the threshhold and then dropped on the floor like a sack of potatoes so I could watch. Intentional or not, the bear absorbed a lot of bullets and lasers before skidding to a dead halt. There was a bald woman with a snake wrapped around her neck. Her head popped like a melon. That left Vercingetorix and a younger guy whose clumsiness helped him dodge eveything my people sent at him. They were exposed, though, and it would be just a matter of seconds.
Until the old man in faded gray robes stepped out one of the depressions leading to the old palace basements and threw a bottle behind the barbarian and his remaining sidekick. It created this glowing blue wall that stopped everything. The pair of would-be heroes ran to meet him, but the old man collapsed on his way.
“Come on, people, go around the wall. Around, over, underneath, it’s just a piece of wall there!” I said to myself cut into the comms frequencies to yell at them. “Get around the wall and finish them off!”
‘I don’t know, sir, it looks like it’s starting to give under the assault!” said the voice of someone who wanted to be executed for incompetence.
“Go around the wall. Come on, there’s a fucking helicopter here, raise up a little higher!” I yelled. Behind me, Citra approached. She looked down on Elda, pity marking her borrowed features. They were no longer Venus’s features. Instead, she had the same strawberry blonde and tanned skin as Elda. I’d had the nanites give Citra better teeth and an unbroken nose, though.
“Can’t you spare her?” asked Citra, kneeling beside the would-be bride.
“If you’re already trying to change me, then you’re in for a rude awakening. More so than the other night,” I turned to her, trying to track the flight of the barbarian from orbit.
The helicopter was pursuing the sidekick and Vercingetorix, who had left the old guy behind. Vercingetorix threw his axe and suddenly the chopper veered off, the pilot reporting an axe lodged in the window and an urgent need for new pants.
“I agreed to that hole before,” Citra said, returning me to the conversation of rude awakenings. “I do not think I can change you, but I ask you, please. I have given up my identity for you. I give myself to you completely. As a wedding gift this once, I ask you show mercy to the one whose place I’ve taken.” She stepped up behind me and wrapped her arms around me. She nuzzled her cheek against my cape.
Eh, it won’t kill me be nice this once for someone else’s sake. I stepped out of her embrace and turned to go fetch the general medicalnanites for Elda, who had passed out from blood loss. The organs where that axe hit weren’t looking pretty either, but she was still, faintly, alive. I kept a large stock of the weaker Riccan variant around just in case I had such wounds. Then I carried her to Citra’s room, which she’d no longer be needing, where Citra had bathed in nanites to change her features. They would see to keeping her alive and keeping her incapacitated for long enough.
Meanwhile, in the real world, the damaged chopper had tried to land back at the miliary base, below which Qiang played safe in a bunker. The daredevil pilot figured a little axe throwing wouldn’t put him off his game. Throwing a pine air freshener around his neck to distract from the smell the last pilot left, he hopped in and gunned it for the barbarian’s ship.
They had reached it and were getting it ready for their escape as best as they could with only the two people. Of course the chopper could reach them and blow them out of the water. At least until the pilot’s targetting equipment scrambled. “Fire on that ship and there won’t be enough robots in the world that could put you back together,” said a voice over the radio.
I switched over to Intercept’s frequency. “Emperor, can you hear us yet? Please answer! The Ranger ship is at the edge of international waters.”
“Yes, with guns trained on what’s left of your palace, Gecko. Call off your pursuit.”
“You know you’re fucking with some treaties now. This is no business of yours.”
“We have broad authority over extradimensional threats, including those associated with the land that reappeared so close to your island. We also have a cannon we can fire first and apologize for using after you’re destroyed. Be glad we’re giving you a choice at all.”
I’ll have Vercingetorix yet, and those tights-wearing sons of bitches. In the meantime, I have to go make an appearance with a perfectly-fine Elda and finish my wedding, then send a delegation with the Bronze City sailor to inform them all of their new king and queen. Get them ready for our visit to the island. That part of the plan has worked just fine.
Now to secure the Tree of Wonders before it is used against me.
I know the island seems like one big lovefest at times, what with the drugs and orgies, but I’m not the one personally selling those things. But people are selling them. Despite the preparations for defense, we’re seeing increased traffic from all sorts. The airport’s having staffing problems, they’re so busy. Faust’s got themselves set up to sell things right out in the open. Others are hocking ill-gotten goods that justify international travel. The really enterprising people are selling smuggling services to get the stuff bought here into other countries. Now those are smart.
Not only would it be difficult to keep undesireables out, but it’s counter to the business and tourism strategy of Ricca. It’s hard to keep an eye on everything, especially with so many of the old security cameras damaged or vandalized. I saw prostitutes plying their trade around newcomers both fancy and blue-collar. I saw drug growers making deals with pilots and boat captains. At a Faustus/Hephaestus street booth, one of their salespeople offered a glowing orb in a diamond-shaped restraint to a man in a tailored suit. Another one used a monitor nearby to show off a plasma sword to a bunch of people who smiled high-fived each other approvingly.
Such a pleasant hive of scum and villainy. It’s almost easy to get lost in all the scheming and deals. I get a cut of much of it, though I’m sure I’ll have to run down someone who doesn’t want to pay. The really awesome thing would be if I could make it even easier to get here and back to anywhere in the world with people’s products. I’d really, really love to get my hands on that teleporter of Cape Diem’s and figure out how it works for just that purpose.
Until then, I’ve got a plan involving flying robots. But, dear reader, you may have guessed they have to wait until I solve this issue with Mu. And do something about that tree over there. A group of justice rangers who have had to repress their hatred of me are not the sort of folks I like being too close to a tree that grants wishes.
This Mu thing. Originally, it was about exploring and conquering it. Then that got hijacked by finding out more about it while fending off attacks. It’s still about conquest, though. Taking over it, neutralizing threats from Mu, and securing the tree so that it can’t be used against me. It was while watching the myriad of people going about their schemes that I realized I needed to be more proactive and less reactionary. I’m good at reactionary, but still.
So for the tree, I need to destroy it or, if that’s not possible, contain it in some way. Explosives are always an option, especially with all the plastic explosives floating around in our market. There’s bound to be some way to destroy this thing. If there isn’t, there’s the containment option. A dimensional bomb could do, if it would do. I mean that I dislike it being in anyone else’s hands in the multiverse. What if it were to end up on another Earth with another version of me? I can’t be trusted with that kind of power. That’s why I must possess it or prevent anyone else from getting their damn, dirty paws on it.
I think I can handle ending the threat of the island and conquering it with related actions. Vercingetorix is coming, and eventually the Bronze City will have its fleet rebuilt to try again. Vercingetorix the barbarian might be on the island already, in fact. There’s plenty of wilderness on the western and northwestern portion of the island, and only so much I can look at. I need to draw him out.
That brings usback to the Bronze City and their Bronze Men. They don’t have much, but they have manpower. Note to self: don’t use that term near too many of the gay ones. They’re pretty old-fashioned. If they’re anything like the Classical Greeks, they’ll have primitive notions of consent. And bestiality. I’ll have to remember that bestiality point if I ever have a feast over there. When a person eats, they like to think nobody stuck a dick in their food.
So what to do about the Bronze City? Rule it, of course! I talked all about it with Elda, Princess of the Bronze City.
“Hey there, mopey pants,” I said, poking my head around the corner to look into her cell. “Are we going to meet the sun today?”
Elda held up well, all things considered. She sat on her bunk, deep in thought. Irritation flitted briefly over her features when she turned to look at me. “You look less ready for war this day, while I am ready to fight one,” she said.
I stepped in and moved to sit beside her on the bunk. She didn’t move her hand away when I set my own on top, which was a good sign. “I know it’s hard when your father dies. As much as you disagreed with him, he still meant so much to you. More than that, you are his heir. All the responsibilities he hoped he could prepare you for are now thrust upon you.”
Her hand clenched under mine, into a fist. “My claim means nothing on its own. My father insisted I learn the games politicians play, but only a king may rule the Bronze City. I told him I should not have to stayin the palace and learn these things if I can not rule and use them. He said that would become clear to me and that a good ruler was different than a hero from the tales. I threw those words back in his face the night I escaped…”
The sentence drifted off, but she took my hand in hers. She held back the sobbing, but not the tears. Then I held her. After several minutes of her calming down and even cuddling against me, I spoke up, “I may have a solution to your problems.” She punched me in the gut when I went for the kiss, but she DID listen to the rest of it.
“So, as you may realize, I’m something of a big deal. I mean, the whole world revolves around me a lot of the time. Yep, totally. But I’m also Emperor. It’s like a king, but better. But I’m an unmarried emperor, which causes people to get a bit jumpy. An unmarried emperor is one accident away from having a bunch of people fighting over my chair. It’s a nice chair, and we’ve even added this memory foam to the cushion, but a lot of people worry there might be someone worse out there to end up with. Others think that fighting over the place will end with buildings destroyed, people stampeded, and cattle raped.”
She nodded understandingly. Really not eating the meat over there, then.
“And you know I am a different sort of man than the ones you have grown up around. This is a chance for you to decide your own fate. If I were the king of the Bronze City, well, you know I have my own land to rule. You could rule the Bronze City in my stead, if you were my queen.”
She looked me right in the eyes. “Why should I trust you?”
I looked right back. “Because the sort of evil and ambitious person who murdered your father has seen fit to declare himself my enemy. Because I tended to your wounds, allowed you freedom even as a captive, and because I am making this your choice. Not mine. Not your father’s. Not Vercingetorix’s.” I’m so glad I wasn’t speaking English for that last sentence.
I had another thing to show her regarding my trust. She didn’t want to be blindfolded, so instead I threw her over my shoulder and held my hands over her hands as I jumped to our destinated, her screaming all the while.”You didn’t wanta blindfold!” I shouted by way of explanation.
When I finally set her down, she tried to kick me and back away. Except then she started to fall off the side of the building, because I’d jumped up to one of our higher buildings. I grabbed her arm and yanked her back up to me, holding her still with my arm around her shoulder. “Look.”
“We’re so high up.” She kept looking down, so I reached over to hold her chin up and force her to look out over the city.
“This is a part of my empire. You ask why you should trust me enough to marry me and make me King of the Bronze City? Because you would be Empress of Ricca. This goes both ways.”
Ya know what’s a great way to lure an old-fashioned hero out of hiding? If the evil emperor holds a lavish wedding to the damsel in distress. Almost always causes an attack. And that very sound logic is what allowed me to eventually bring the ladies around to my way of thinking.
“I swear, she means nothing to me!” I told Citra back in the residence, ducking a vase thrown by Beetrice. Silver Shark held Qiang in one hand and threw a pillow at me with the other. I knew no one would mean my kid harm, but that courtesy didn’t extend to me at all in this instance. Citra cried and grabbed a knife. I held up my hands. “The wedding will not go through!”
She stopped a few feet from me. “You’re sure?”
I stood back up, glad I no longer had to stop entertaining this amusing reaction by laying some hurt on her. “Positive. Vercingetorix is in the area. He may be on the island already. He’ll find out about it and crash the wedding. It’ll be disrupted and left incomplete while we all beat him up. In order to better cause this to happen, I’m going to have them install some sort of environmental hazard, like a bottomless pit or a volcano.”
“You won’t marry her?” Citra asked to be sure, pouting with Venus’s face.
I patted her on the head. “Of course not.” Then, looking over to Beetrice, I said, “Listen, Beetrice, it’s nice that someone is as happy to see me as you are, but there’s nothing between us but raw sexual chemistry. I’m looking for more than that.”
Silver started to open her mouth in response but I cut her off, “Actually, I’m not looking for more than that. I’m looking to not get married at all, but everybody’s making such a big deal about it and I don’t feel like resorting to extreme measures to make my distaste known. Either way, Beetrice, you’ve grown into a fine leader without me. You clearly possess cunning and a strong will to have held together your rule of North Korea and negotiated for my continued freedom. You have my gratitude, and a few hundred of my kids.”
Beetrice ran over past Citra and hugged me. “Oh, that’s so sweet!” On the plus side, I needed my back cracked that well. She set me back down gently and backed away.
Silver ahemed and nodded toward Citra. I addressed the shark cyborg first. “Silver, I like having you around, and you know how much I enjoy your enhancements, but we’ve already talked about how bad I am at being part of a couple.”
“Finally,” I said, drawing Citra close. “I am not a good man. I’m not even always a man. But you helped me deal with the Claw and stood by me during all that’s happened since then. Qiang likes you, and you were willing to give up your face for me. That says a lot to me.” It really does. Corrupting a woman into being willing to do that just to get with me? Rawr.
I reached back behind me and under my shirt. I had to toss aside a few knicknacks from visitng the bazaar. A pack of super trading cards that I hope has one of me, a pair of electro-grenades, and a laser-etched anti-personnel chainsaw. Don’t ask how I held that last one back there, but I have amazingly strong cheek muscles. Finally, I pulled out a finely-engraved gold comb. It featured a gecko on the end of it, a tiny Earth of jade and blue diamond held within its mouth.
I reached up, did up Citra’s hair, and slid it into place. Then I looked down at her purple face, leaned in real close to her ear, and said, “Don’t forget to breathe.”
She looked so happy, I felt a little guilty. I’ll screw it up at some point. But hopefully I won’t have to kill Citra like I’m going to do to Elda at the wedding I’m rushing through in a few days’ time. If the ceremony doesn’t make people cry, the funeral surely will.
I have good news and bad news. Mostly on the good side of things. But first, let’s get into the disposition of my forces.
I didn’t just recruit Deep Ones to try their flippers at VR robot piloting. I recognized they represented an amphibious force. Sure, they weren’t as good on sea and land as Seals, but they’d do adequately for fighting people so far back down the tech tree that they haven’t even researched “Not Dying For Beginners”. Good book, by the way. Sadly, the author passed away before he could write “Advanced Not Dying”. Auto-erotic asphyxiation, though his wife insists it was research.
So I made the rounds among those I’d convinced to come over to the dark side and asked these ill-bred fishmen if any of them have any combat experience at all. Some raised a fin, others didn’t. Some raised and lowered it. “What seems to be the major malfunction here?” I asked.
They looked between themselves before a couple tried to speak up. One quickly yielded the floor to his fellow frog man, whose Australian accent was more subtle. Brisbane, maybe? “We had monthly drills. No one fought for real, like sparred. Just in case the war against humanity started up and we swept across the dry lands to tear your civilization asunder, Mr. Emperor, sir.”
“I’ve heard of worse,” I said.
“They said it would be self-defense,” he continued. I think it was a he. I’m a bit rusty on my sexual dimorphism of amphibians. “But they taught us how to murder lone stragglers so we could ambush a funeral party, or attacking and occupying where people grow food and raise your domesticated beasts. There was very little actual defense in it.”
“I get the point,” I said, raising a hand to forestall more reminiscences. “I don’t think much of that is going to be useful this time around. These guys who are about to hit us, I think we can take ’em out before they ever become a threat. We kinda have to, most of the navy went rogue back when everything on the island collapsed. Anyway, I figure you guys are good at swimming, you can handle being in the water, and their ships are made of wood.”
I pointed over to where a couple of the regular soldiers wheeled out a crate. “I need y’all to swim these things on over to the ships and stick them to the ships however you can. You don’t even need to go aboard. Below water level’s actually ideal here. They’re actually land-style mines, but they’re engineered to be waterproof, with several glowing reviews.”
I was surprised to find one of Ricca’s exports are the “Soon The World Will Be” mines. The mine business is a tricky thing, since they’re kind of a war crime and infamously the bane of countries for decades afterwards, but they do see some supervillain use. Maybe put a field around areas you don’t want people to wander on your private island, or down a corridor you don’t want to assign guards to in your underground lair. Soon The World Will Be mines have a world-class reputation for dependability and versaility, being waterproof, difficult to tamper with and disarm, and a wide range of triggers. They even come with dude mode, where a mine detects someone on proximity, then activates a time delay. Just when they think they’re safe, kablam!
Coming soon to a black market near you. Not recommended for children 2 years and under due to choking hazard. Ask your mad doctor if Soon The World Will Be mines are right for you.
It took away from VR training time, but explosives training is one of those things that has to be done right if done at all. When it goes boom, you DO get more than one chance to make a good first impression. The problem is, if you make a bad impression, you make a good crater. That’s why so many hands-on courses on the subject end up full of high scores.
When they were done, I called over an officer. He gave me a salute and a bow. “They have much to learn, but we will not fail you, Emperor.”
“I’m sure you won’t. Have y’all seen Silver Shark anywhere?” I asked.
“We have not been informed if she is on mission for you, venerated one.”
“I didn’t send her out on one. She got huffy the other day, and I want to find her before she becomes Silver Pufferfish.”
“The Pufferfish was a thorn in the side of the great Empire of Ricca in the seventies, the histories teach us,” he responded, and seemingly oblivious to the pun. Maybe that was something gained in translation.
“Yes, well I just wanted to know if y’all had seen her. Do not organize a search party. This is something personal between her and myself.”
We gave them a crash course, or perhaps a blast course, then sent them off. The Deep One demolition team was to swim out to Mu and wait near the harbor of the Bronze City. When the fleet set sail, our guys were to follow them until they got drowning distance from land, set up the mines, and sink the whole lot of them. Also, maybe bring back a prisoner or two. I’m curious what happened with Vercingetorix. One day, he’s headed to the city with a ragtag band of misfits. The next, nothing. I counted all the ships in the harbor and they hadn’t been stolen, either.
While the Deep Ones swam out to use modern military gadgets on a bunch of triremes, I searched for Silver Shark. I’d originally expected her to come back after her anger subsided, but she ended up staying away from the residence. I went about checking for her by myself, aided by my ability to connect to a number of hidden surveillance cameras planted around the island. I ended up finding her in a bar. One of the more plebian bars. A small, dirty, smoke-filled place where people come to drink, forget, and see if anyone’s desperate enough for a fuck. A fun place to play cards or settle a bet over who can gouge out the most eyes.
When I walked in, there was a brief dip in chatter before people began talking more quietly to themselves. My armor was rather distinctive, marking me as that weird Emperor guy who would actually go into a bar like this, meant more for the regular folk.
“Hey there, sugarcookie,” I said, sliding up beside Silver and taking a seat. The bartender hurried over, and I gave him my order, then told him to leave us alone after he dropped off my sake. Silver glanced over at first, but didn’t attempt to fling me away. Yet another good reason I wore the armor. “You haven’t been back.”
“Yeah,” she said.
“I’d say we had some different ideas about the kind of relationship we were in, but that implies I have good ones. I must confess, I’m pretty terrible at relationships.”
That got a short “Ha!” from her. Then she hung her head. “You’re the only one I’ve had in a long time. Most men don’t look at me that way.”
“Their loss. Some people just don’t know what beautiful is. But, listen, it’s not you. It’s me. I’m an asshole. And, even if I did care about anyone as a friend or more, there are some pretty big risks to letting people know about that. A hero might use someone’s identity to extort me, or some street vigilante might go around and kill someone just for having a connection to me.”
“I know, I’m a villain too, remember?” she said, shooting me a look with the void-like depths of one of her replacement eyes.
“Yeah, but you’re not hated by almost the entire world for threatening to kill like, half of them. I mean, I saved them all twice, at least. Three times if you count Cthulhu. What do I have to show for it?”
“Your own island and country,” she answered. “All the wealth within it. A blanket amnesty. The love of beautiful woman. Groupies. Your own private army of unquestioning minions. A giant bee woman.”
“I have groupies?” I asked. I mean, yeah, probably. Fucking Charles Manson has fans, and I have much better facial hair, so why not?
After a moment of silencewhere she didn’t elaborate on the groupies, I just added.”Moving on… I’m not the settling down type. I got issues. I don’t have any desire to marry anyone, but I can see how people see it as important now that I’m a public figure. Which… oooh, those damn toy companies can do whatever they want with my image now, can’t they? Son of a bitch. But if it wasn’t for this big dynastic thing, I wouldn’t get hitched. Hitching slows ya down, and I wanna be free to hop from place to place.”
“Oh god,” she said, facepalming. “Don’t-”
“You’re in my world now, not your world,” I stood and began singing, music issuing from my armor. “And I got friends on the other side!” I looked around to find the rest of the bar ducking and covering, rather than joining in on a magical musical adventure. I cut the music. “Spoilsports.”
“What kind of world do we live in where you lead a country,” Silver said.
I sat back down. “The United States elected-”
She raised a hand. “I got it. Ugh. Don’t even say the name. Point made forever.” She turned to me then, not speaking, but occasionally opening her mouth as if to start again.
I dove in for us. “Tangent over, about us. You and I, and our relationship. I saw it as a more casual thing but never got your take on it. You saw it as more serious, in which case I cheated on you. Repeatedly. Like, a lot. Look at me, Silver. I’ve sucked more Korean cocks than… hold on, I need to look up a Korean porn star.”
“As if you don’t know any already,” she remarked.
“Beside the point. Listen, you’re welcome back at the palace. As far as things between us go, I liked us being friendly with one another. If that involves the occasional roll in the hay, I’m fine with it. Besides, you’re a good example for my daughter. She might ask me for laser eyes one day if she sees how cool you look.”
She smiled at that. “You don’t deserve her or Citra.”
“I don’t deserve lots of things. It’s not a just world. To quote a certain Goblin King, ‘Fair? I wonder what your basis for comparison is.’ Yeah, Citra shouldn’t want to marry me. She shouldn’t have done what she did for me, either.”
“Damn straight,” Silver said.
We had a pleasant time talking, and though she came back to the palace with me, she didn’t crawl into my bed. A quick check showed Beetrice splayed out on my sofa, Qiang asleep on a pile of stuffed animals in the middle of the living room, and a doppelganger of my nemesis waiting for me in my bedroom.
Lifestyles of the rich and evil.
Of course, my brief contentment didn’t last long, as the next day would bring with it the news that the Deep Ones didn’t listen. They swam all night, took one look at all the boats, and figured they would go ahead and set up the bombs where no one could see.
“Emperor,” one of them groveled before me at the base. “The plan was flawless. But then we heard a clatter from the docks. A large man threw guards into the water, where they saw us. He had with him a great bear, a bald woman who moved without making a sound, an old man with wild hair and beard who threw exploding bottles, and an ordinary-looking man saved from injury by amusing slapstick instead of fighting. Together, they overtook one of the ships we had not set to blow and made off. We could not pursue, as the guards were busy attacking us with pikes and discovering our sabotage. We were forced to blow up as many ships as we could there in shallow water. Please, Emperor, have mercy on your humble subjects.”
Well, that’s good. Always nice to have a military fiasco on my hands. A bunch of ships down in the shallow water of a harbor, with most of the men who would have been on them still unharmed and able to fight. If I know how the universe works, the people that escaped were likely Vercingetorix and friends, which makes it worse. “Disappointing. Did you at least get me a prisoner?”
A captain or some sort of equivalent rank snapped to attention. Duizhang, I think they call this one. “Sir, the prisoner has is in our holding cells. We were careful to keep him separate from your other prisoner.”
I nodded to him. “That is acceptable. Find a way to have her find out about him and visit him. Don’t permit an escape, but she can have news of what has developed in her homeland since her capture.” He saluted and started to move off, but I raised a hand to press against his chest and stop him. “And see to it that we find the ship that escaped. Vercingetorix will no-doubt find some suicidally heroic opportunity to attack us. Now if you’ll excuse me,” I turned to look at the Deep Ones as I spoke next. “I must go see the Directory about allocating land to our newest veterans.”
That caused them to droop, knowing I would uphold my end of the bargain after they went against my orders and kinda failed. Because their immigration package to Ricca now includes a guilt trip.